Reflections on History: Jiang Ziya Giving Up on the Tyrannical Emperor Zhou of the Shang Dynasty to Defect to the Zhou Dynasty

Li Chunran, Ed.

PureInsight | February 27, 2003

[] Since the beginning of Chinese civilization, many great dynasties rose and fell, taking turns ruling China. The demise of each dynasty was most certainly the result of a fatuous and self-indulgent tyranny or the decision-making of an evil prime minister and corrupt court officials. Equally certain was the advent of a righteous new ruler who would comply with the will of heaven, rectify the chaos, and re-establish order in China. He would attract civil and military officials who could clearly distinguish the will of heaven, which was to assist the new righteous ruler in establishing and governing a new dynasty.

Jiang Ziya was a civil official of the Emperor Zhou of the Shang Dynasty, a fatuous and self-indulgent tyrant. Once he decided that the Emperor Zhou would soon bring his own ruin, Jiang Ziya made a wise decision to forsake him, and defect to the Zhou Dynasty where Jiang Ziya eventually became the most famous Prime Minister in the history of China.

Jiang Ziya's original family name was Lu. His given name at birth was Shang. His style name was Ziya. [A style name is a name that one gives to oneself when one grows older. For the most part only literary people will have a style name because only they can appreciate their given name and from that derive an appropriate and pleasing style.] According to the legend, when Lu Shang defected to the Zhou Dynasty, the Emperor Wen of the Zhou Dynasty excitedly exclaimed, "I have hoped for you to come to me for a long time!" Then the Emperor Wen blessed Lu Shang with an honorable title of "Tai Gong Wan", which means, "longing to meet the greatly esteemed elderly gentleman" in Chinese. When the next ruler, the Emperor Wu of the Zhou Dynasty, inherited the throne, he called Lu Shang "Master Lu Shang." Lu Shang assisted the Emperor Wu in conquering the Shang Dynasty, and constantly provided outstanding service to him. Eventually, the Emperor appointed Lu Shang as the feudal lord of Jiang of the Qi estate. It is why he is commonly known as "the greatly esteemed elderly gentleman of Jiang."

Lu Shang grew up in an obscure family, struggling with poverty. He was born in the Shang Dynasty during a turbulent time. Lu Shang was very intelligent and quick since a young age. He read extensively and had a photographic memory. He had the necessary knowledge and ambition to govern a nation. Finally, Lu Shang had the opportunity to work as a senior civil official for the Emperor Zhou of the Shang Dynasty. Unfortunately, Emperor Zhou was not only the worst of libertines but also an alcoholic. He was a tyrant and had no regard for moral values. He used extreme measures to control his court officials, treated the feudal lords disrespectfully, and persecuted his own people with brutality. He plagued the Shang society with a dark, extremely corrupt government administration. The Shang Dynasty was in turmoil and indeed doomed.

The ambitious Lu Shang apparently had a clear insight of the situation of the Shang Dynasty. One day, the Emperor Zhou summoned Lu Shang and ordered him to supervise the construction of the "Deer Platform" [Note: a deer symbolizes China, or the ruling of China.] The Emperor Zhou specifically required that the "Deer Platform" must be forty-nine feet in height. Moreover, on top of the "Deer Platform" there must be lavish green buildings, as well as a palace with a two storeyed pavilion, balustrades decorated with agate, and pillars decorated with gemstones. After studying the architectural design diagrams, Lu Shang calculated in his mind, "Chao Ge [the capital city of the Shang Dynasty] is not the place for me. The construction of the Deer Platform would tire the people and waste economic resources, but if I should try to persuade this tyrant to drop the plan, he would certainly refuse to listen and would surely kill me using tortures such as grilling me on a giant hot iron beam. I might as well pretend to go with his wish, and find a way to defect to another country. Why should I not defect [when hope has forsaken this land]?" He pretended to obey the order, and hurried home immediately. His wife, whose maiden name was Ma, greeted him excitedly and said, "Congratulations, Mr. senior official, on your returning home. Welcome home!" But Lu Shang coldly replied, "I quit." Ma was shocked and inquired about the reason. Lu Shang replied, "The Emperor Zhou wanted to satisfy concubine Da Ji's request by constructing a Deer Platform. He ordered me to supervise the construction, but I cannot bear to see the sufferings and calamities of the myriads of poverty-stricken people because of this unnecessary project. I have decided that the Emperor Zhou is not a wise emperor that I wish to serve. My wife, we will defect to the Xi Qi estate, and see where fortune will lead us."

The Xi Qi estate was a feudal estate that belonged to the Duke of Xi Bo named Ji Chang, who later established the Zhou Dynasty and became the Emperor Wen. During his reign, Ji Chang conducted himself with compassion and righteousness, respected the old, and cared for the young. [In terms of the nation's development,] Ji Chang actively recruited talent, developed the nation's economy, cut down unnecessary expenses, and always tried to find ways to increase people's income. Soon Xi Qi was in prosperity and order. The feudal lords around Xi Qi began to rally with Ji Chang. People from far and near immigrated to Xi Qi with a devotion to Ji Chang. In brief, Ji Chang had gradually turned Xi Qi into a powerful feudal estate that would soon put an end to the Shang Dynasty.

"The feudal lord Jiang was a knowledgeable man, and once worked for the Emperor Zhou of the Shang Dynasty. When Emperor Zhou abandoned his wits and morality, Jiang left him." (From "The Biography of the Feudal Lord Jiang of the Qi Dynasty" in the Chapter of the Biographies of the Feudal Lords of The Book of History.) Lu Shang left the Emperor Zhou of the Shang Dynasty to defect to the Emperor Wen of the Zhou Dynasty, who appointed him as the chief military advisor. With the strategic advice of Lu Shang, the Emperor Wu went on a crusade against the Emperor Zhou of the Shang Dynasty, and eliminated the entire army of Shang in the battle of Mu Ye. According to The Book of History, Emperor Zhou died a tragic death. "The Emperor Zhou retreated to the top of Deer Platform in a robe covered with gemstones and jewels, and committed self-immolation." (From "The Biographies of the Emperors of the Zhou Dynasty" in the Chapter of the Biographies of the Emperors of The Book of History.) When the tyrannical Emperor Zhou set himself on fire on top of the Deer Platform, he put an end to the Shang Dynasty.

In today's China, people do not distinguish right from wrong, or good from evil. The entire nation is in disorder and chaos. Heaven has spoken in rage, and so have the Chinese people. The history has given us a warning example in the tyrannical Emperor Zhou of the Shang Dynasty: Throughout the history, the forsaking of moral values is always followed by the ruin of a dynasty. Every rational man should exercise self-control to protect himself from immorality. Every wise man should respect and comply with heaven's will. Choose wisely, or you will soon become part of the history that serves as a warning example to the future generations!

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